Every year, many thousands of visitors to Washington DC make their way to the crossing of 8th and F Streets, to an enormous building with many columns. Once it was the US Patent Office Building. Now it’s the Smithsonian American Art Museum. And there, up on the third floor, those visitors might well admire a BIG statue of Egypt’s Cleopatra VII, at the moment when she was dying in the summer of 30 B.C. She was carved in Italy, out of snow-white marble.
When people first saw it in Philadelphia, in 1876, at America’s big 100th birthday party, they were so surprised to discover that the sculptor was a woman! Still more unusual, she was an African American. Her name was Mary Edmonia Lewis.
Her ancestors came from Africa, Haiti, and the Native American Ojibwa (or Chippewa) tribe. She grew up in western New York. With money her big brother made mining for gold out west, talented Edmonia went to Ohio’s Oberlin College, but not for long. Two white girls there lied, saying she tried to poison them, then a bunch of people beat her up. So her brother helped her settle in Boston, where she learned to sculpt. By age 20, Ms. Lewis had her own sculpture studio. She was so successful that she was able to leave racist, Civil War-torn America in 1865, to sculpt and study in Rome. When she heard the glorious news that the war was over and America’s slaves were emancipated, she celebrated by sculpting an African American man and woman, unchained.
In the years after she created her dying Cleopatra, both the artist and her masterpiece were lost to history. But now we know that Ms. Lewis ended her days in England, in 1907. Her Cleopatra wound up in Washington DC.
But there’s a little more to tell.
About the time Ms. Lewis left for Italy, President Abraham Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Ball was held, March 6, 1865, at the old Patent Office Building when it was new. Little did he know that, in about five weeks, he’d be mortally wounded over at Ford’s Theatre. Or that the building where he and his wife were dancing would be a treasure house of art, including a dying queen sculpted by a great African American artist.
The multi-talented hands of Cheryl Harness create another winning combination of history, biography, and illustration in George Washington Carver and Science & Invention in America, the inspiring story of a man who rose from slavery to worldwide fame as America’s plant doctor. Cheryl Harness’ lively narrative follows Carver as he pioneers hundreds of new uses for plants and revolutionizes American agriculture. Her vivid illustrations are an invitation to step back in time and become an active participant in this compelling story.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "Edmonia's Statues." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 29 May
Way, way back in the year 111 BCE (Before our Common Era), thousands of Chinese warriors armed with fine iron swords and lethal crossbows, rode and marched south to conquer the little kingdom of Nanyue. To the people living there, the little kingdom was Nam Viet. To us, faraway in their unimaginable future, their land is northern Vietnam.
After the invaders came all sorts of Chinese colonizers. They would build roads and temples plus new trading ports on Nanyue’s coast, where the Red River empties into the South China Sea perfect for China’s merchant ships, on their way to or just returned from India. The Chinese brought their culture, language, and top-down style of government too. It would all be for the glory (and increased wealth) of the empire and for the betterment of the conquered barbarians. You’d think they’d appreciate it!
Not necessarily. Over the next thousand years or so, the ancient Vietnamese would get fed up with their heavy taxes and harsh treatment. They’d rise up more than once to challenge their Chinese overlords. One particular revolt would inspire stories ever after. It took place around the years 39-43 CE. Who led this famous revolt? Two daughters of a military ruler; they lived in the vicinity of the modern city of Hanoi.
The women of ancient Vietnam enjoyed much more social equality than Chinese women. Females worked in business, as public officials and they could inherit property. They could become proficient in the martial arts, as did Trung Hac and her younger sister, Trung Nhi. With their knowledge of armor and swords and with their fury, they raised up an army of 80,000 soldiers! Other women, including their mother, were generals, mounted on war elephants at the head of the Trung Sisters’ army! They liberated fortresses, battled the Chinese, and drove them out of Vietnam!
Alas, this is not the end of the Legend of the Trung Sisters. The warriors of wealthier, more powerful China returned to defeat them in the year 43. And rather than surrender, the sisters took what was for them the more honorable action: They took their own lives. Some stories say they drowned themselves in a river. Some say they disappeared into the clouds. Whatever did happen, the Trung Sisters are remembered in plays, poems, and songs to this very day, as Heroines of Vietnam.
Even though the Trưng Sisters' revolt against the Chinese was almost 2,000 years ago, its legacy in Vietnam remains as they are seen as symbols of Vietnamese resistance and freedom. To this day, the people of Vietnam perform memorial ceremonies for the sisters every year at a Hanoi temple named for them. This is a statue of the Trung sisters in Ho Chi Minh City.
In a 1776 letter cautioning her husband to "remember the ladies," Abigail Adams made one of the earliest pleas for women's rights in America. How could she have known, in the years to follow, just how many strong and independent women would step forward to forge new paths in their fight for equality?
From Clara Barton and Harriet Tubman to the less well-known but equally important Belva Lockwood and Maya Ying Lin, Remember the Ladies spans the centuries to provide an engaging look at one hundred outstanding women who have helped shape our great nation. Click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "The Real Life Legendary Trung Sisters of Ancient Vietnam."
Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 22 May 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/
On a night in 1768, a meteor streaked across the skies over a Shawnee village in western Ohio so Chief Puckshinwau named his new little son Tecumseh or “Shooting Star.” He hoped his boy would grow up as he had, farming and hunting along with the other Native tribes in the wild Ohio River Valley. But how troubling it was, those white people from the east, who kept arriving, always wanting more of the beautiful land! Tecumseh was six when one of them killed his father in 1774, the year before the Revolutionary War began.
Throughout the war, British, American, and Native warriors attacked one another in the vast frontier that lay west of the white folks’ towns. At age 12, Tecumseh saw white soldiers burn his village and his people’s crops. After the Americans won their independence, in 1783, they were even more determined to win the West and settle there. To Tecumseh, the Native peoples were up against an all-out invasion! As a young chief, he led fierce raids on white settlements, earning a reputation as a brilliant commander. As a charismatic leader, he traveled up to Canada and down to the Gulf of Mexico, urging the tribes to UNITE, fight, and sign no treaties at the cost of losing their land.
“Let us form one body, one heart,” Tecumseh cried, “and defend to the last warrior our country, our homes, our liberty, and the graves of our fathers.”
As Tecumseh’s message spread among the tribes, along with word of his younger brother’s strong spiritual visions, a religious, political movement surged through Native America. Warriors gathered at the brothers’ settlement by Indiana’s Tippecanoe River. And then, when Tecumseh was away, in November 1811, U.S. soldiers surrounded it. They defeated the Indians in the fateful “Battle of Tippecanoe.”
Tecumseh did not give up. He and warriors from 32 tribes fought on. The British weren’t grabbing tribal lands so the Natives sided with them against the United States in the War of 1812. Valiant Tecumseh led armies and flotillas of canoes against U.S. forces up until an enemy bullet ended his life on October 5, 1813. It marked the end of Tecumseh’s alliance, but the legendary Shooting Star still burns brightly in the skies of memory.
Daniel Boone's story is every young adventurer's fantasy: A childhood in Pennsylvania spent hunting on lands shared with Native Americans; a coming-of-age fighting in the French and Indian War; and the fulfillment of a life's dream with the blazing of the Wilderness Road across the Appalachian Mountains and the settling of Boonesborough in Kentucky. Add to this the rescue of his daughter from Shawnee warriors, and readers are quickly in the thick of another irresistible Cheryl Harness History. For more information on The Trailblazing Life of Daniel Boone, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "Tecumseh, the 'Shooting Star.'" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think
Tank, 7 May 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
For some of us, spring begins when you can go outside in your shorts and not get cold legs. For those of us in the northern hemisphere, spring’s official start is at the vernal equinox, when the sun shines directly on the earth’s equator. For me, here in Missouri, that was March 20, 5:45 P.M. CDT. The autumnal equinox arrives in September— when spring begins in the southern hemisphere! But I digress from today’s theme: May Day. For thousands of years, it’s been a day for celebrating spring, but that’s not all it’s been.
Since the oldest olden days, winter-weary people have gloried when the weather warms and the cold earth comes back to life. Some of their ancient festivals still happen every spring, such as Sham el Nissim, in Egypt. In India, on Holi, dancing Hindus still shower one another with colors; and Iranians still fix a special supper at Norooz, as did their ancient Persian ancestors.
When the Roman armies invaded ancient Britain, in 55 B.C.E. they brought along their spring holy day, Floralia, when they gathered bouquets of flowers for their goddess, Flora. The Celts, who’d been living in Britain for years, celebrated the earth mother’s reawakening with dances and bonfires at Beltane, around the end of April. Over the years, the holidays blended into May Day, a time for giving gifts of flowers and dancing about a Maypole, strung with ribbons.
Then, in the 1880s, May Day celebrations changed. It was like this: For decades, factory owners had been making their employees work anywhere from 10 to 16 hours a day, six days a week (even children!), often in unsafe, nasty conditions. The workers were sick of it! They organized themselves into labor unions. At a Chicago gathering, in 1884, they started a worldwide movement for an 8-hour workday. With a huge demonstration in the city, on May 1, 1886, May Day came to be the first Labor Day, a day of parades. It’s still celebrated as International Workers’ Day in many countries.
But one more thing happened, in 1923. Because ‘May Day’ sounds like the French phrase, ‘m’aidez’ or ‘help me,’ a London radioman turned it into an international distress call. So if you hear “Mayday! Mayday!” on your radio, no one’s wishing you ‘Happy Spring!’ Someone’s in trouble! And once he or she is saved, I’ll bet he or she would like to have some pretty flowers.
Cheryl Harness is the author and illustrator of Remember the Ladies: 100 Great American Women. One of the 100 Ladies is the great and heroic labor union activist "Mother" Mary Harris Jones. She was born on May Day, 1830. Click here to find out more about about Mary, and about a lot of other great Americans.
MLA 8 CItation
Harness, Cheryl. "May Day." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 1 May 2018,
It was December 24, 1801, when bundled-up Philadelphians bought their 25¢ tickets and entered Peale’s Museum on Fifth Street. Once inside, they saw the owner’s paintings. And I’ll bet you have too—even if you’ve never heard of Charles Willson Peale. This one, for instance, of his fellow Revolutionary War soldier:
Visitors to the museum had seen Peale’s collections of butterflies, too, and other nature specimens, such as the fossilized teeth of mysterious beasts. (Who knew then that animals went extinct? Hardly anybody!) But on this extra-special Christmas Eve, people probably hurried past Peale’s handmade dioramas, with the lifelike bodies of birds and mammals that he’d stuffed and posed. Today, Mr. C.W. Peale himself was introducing his NEW ATTRACTION. People had paid an extra 50¢ just to see it! Now they looked up, up, UP at it, and were astonished.
What animal’s skeleton was eleven feet tall? Seventeen and a half feet from its bony tail to the tips of its giant, curving tusks? It was a mastodon.
No one had seen a live mastodon in more than ten thousand years. So how did one’s bones get to Philadelphia? Mr. Peale and other naturalists such as Thomas Jefferson, the new President-elect, wrote to one another about their studies, collections, and the latest discoveries, such as like these huge, mysterious bones in southern New York state. Some of North America’s long-gone mastodons ended up there, by the Hudson River. As soon as he heard about them, Peale hurried to see them. Then he not only figured a way to dig up the bones, but he also painted a picture of the huge excavation!
Peale’s son, Rembrandt helped to draw and assemble the bones:
For years, people paid to marvel at the enormous, sensational skeleton. Later on, after Mr. Peale’s death in 1827, his museum slowly went broke. P.T. Barnum, the circus showman, bought a lot of his exhibits. Later still, they were destroyed in a fire. And the mighty bones of the mastodon wound up lost for a hundred years, until the skeleton turned up in Germany, where you can see it today.
In Thomas Jefferson, her sixth presidential biography for National Geographic, Cheryl Harness illuminates the many sides of Thomas Jefferson: scientist, lawyer, farmer, architect, diplomat, inventor, musician, philosopher, author of the Declaration of Independence, founder of the University of Virginia, and third president of the United States. Readers meet this extraordinary man of contradictions: a genius who proclaimed that "All men are created equal" and championed the rights of "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness," while at the same time living a life that depended on the enforced labor of slaves.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "The Big Deal in Mr. Peale's Museum." Nonfiction Minute, iNK
Think Tank, 18 Apr. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
Since 1775, Americans in the 13 British Colonies had been fighting to free themselves from mighty Great Britain. The French didn’t care for the British, having had their own wars with them, so many a Frenchman came to help the Americans. One was a teenaged aristocrat, the Marquis de Lafayette. He so admired America’s revolutionary ideals of liberty and democracy that he sailed there in 1777 to offer his money and services to his idol, General George Washington. By 1781, General Lafayette was leading French and American troops, battling the British in Virginia. Now a fellow there named James Armistead joined the fight, once he got his master’s permission. After all, Armistead was an enslaved African American.
What did he do? He hung around the British, finding out what they were up to – dangerous work! Then Armistead, patriot spy, took his info to General Lafayette, who used it to help beat the British at Yorktown in October 1781, which, in turn, led to the United States’ victory in the Revolutionary War.
The Marquis went back to France. Armistead went back to work for his master. Though he’d helped win America’s independence, he did not win his. When Lafayette made a return visit in 1784, he was outraged to find his fellow veteran still enslaved! The Marquis saw to it that Armistead was freed and the former slave showed his gratitude by changing his name to James Armistead Lafayette.
But this isn’t how the story ends. Forty years later, the Americans invited the Marquis to come for a visit. He’d grown old. He’d suffered in prison during France’s own revolution in the 1790s. How splendid it was, visiting the United States— all 24 of them! Oh, the parties and banquets the Americans had for their old friend! But one of the happiest moments of all was in early 1825. The old aristocrat was riding in a parade through Richmond, Virginia, when he spotted a white-haired black gentleman in the crowd. The Marquis reined in his horse, dismounted, and went to greet James Armistead Lafayette. And the two old heroes of the American Revolution flung their arms around one another.
Cheryl Harness uses her wonderfully vibrant art and down-to-earth writing style to present George the adventurous boy, tromping through the woods with his dog and his hunting rifle; George the courageous military leader fighting alongside his men; George the cunning military strategist, outfoxing the British and forcing their surrender at Yorktown; George the brilliant statesman presiding over the Constitutional Convention; and George the President, wisely protecting our country from enemies foreign and domestic so it could grow strong. For more information, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "The Aristocrat and the Spy." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think
Tank, 10 Apr. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/